3 Yeshiva U alumni win $36K Kohelet Prizes


Three alumni of Yeshiva University’s Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration — Rabbi Yoni Fein ’14A, Shira Greenspan ’14A, and Rabbi Tzvi Sinensky ’15A — have been awarded 2017 Kohelet Prizes celebrating progression in Jewish education. The annual prize bestows $36,000 to each of six educators or teams of educators who demonstrate extraordinary accomplishment in six categories such as interdisciplinary integration, differentiated instruction, developing critical thinking skills and taking risks. 

“It’s extremely validating to know that our programs inspire the work of our graduates and have direct impact on the lives of so many Jewish students,” said Azrieli Dean Rona Novick.

Rabbi Fein, of the Moriah School of Englewood, NJ, won the differentiated instruction category for the school’s recalibrated approach to teaching Talmud, which uses a data-driven model to create personalized learning pathways that students progress through based on proficiency and mastery in eight specific domains that provide a comprehensive understanding of Talmud — including content, vocabulary, functional structures, and real-life application.

“The model of Talmud instruction in Jewish Day schools has remained mostly intact for decades,” said Rabbi Fein in a statement for the Prize’s consideration. “I designed a new innovative approach to middle-school Talmud instruction that we believe to be a game-changer. With a team of rabbeim that includes both experienced and first-year teachers with limited technological skills, I’ve worked to establish a successful growth mindset and collaborative culture around the transition to personalized learning in Talmud.”

Greenspan, whose project was conducted at Yeshivat Noam of Paramus, NJ, won the risk-taking category for “In Every Generation,” the school’s independent anchor activity for accelerated Tanach students which encourages meaningful inter-textual exploration of the Bible. The project called for students to identify underlying themes of Pesach by analyzing 18 events in Tanach that took place during the holiday and create their own seder symbols to be used at family sedarim. 

Rabbi Sinensky, of Kohelet Yeshiva in Merion Station, Pennsylvania, received the award for the interdisciplinary integration category for the school’s philosophical ethics unit in its junior year’s Integrated American Literature, Jewish and Western Philosophy course, known as Tikvah. Each unit includes books from the corpus of American literature, read and discussed alongside selected pieces from philosophical and legal texts from both Jewish and other sources. The course culminated with an event titled “Meeting of the Minds,” modeled off of Steve Allen’s PBS program of the same name in the 1970s, in which a student moderator would introduce and interview historical personalities played by other students, who would then discuss and debate major philosophical questions as figures such as Plato, Maimonides, or Kant, among others. 

In addition to the three winners, three YU alumni received honorable mentions. Rabbi Yehuda Chanales ’07A, Adina Blaustein ’08S ’12R, and Rabbi Natan Kapustin ’04A.